Candidate Advice & Tips

How to write the perfect CV & Cover Letter
Your CV and covering letter are essential tools in most job searches. There is no ‘correct’ way to writing a CV and covering letter but we hope these general rules and tips will help you along the way.

CV Structure
Having a well-structured CV that’s well presented and easy to read gives a lasting impression. This is how we recommend you layout your CV.

1. The first section of your CV should contain your personal details, your home address and contact details including email address and a phone number. Follow this with a brief personal statement summarising your skills, experience, personal attributes and strengths that you will bring to the specific role.

2. Then highlight your employment history, presented in reverse chronological order i.e. most recent or current job first. If you have only worked for one company, break it down with an entry for each position or the projects you dealt with. For each position held, briefly describe your responsibilities and the work undertaken. Try to include achievements and quantify them in sales, financial, production or impact terms.

Each professional position that you’ve had must include at least one statement of accomplishment otherwise it can look like a job description rather than a tool to sell yourself.

3. Next, include your qualifications and then list your hobbies and interests in no more than three lines. Any voluntary or charity work or external posts you hold are worth including. Always include the languages you speak, courses or training you may have done, or any professional memberships.

4. Finally, it is recommended that you give two references, including the referees’ official titles, addresses and telephone numbers.

Additional CV Tips
If you are replying to a specific job advertisement, review what key words are used in the advertisement and ensure that any that apply to you are included in your CV.

Include enough information to stimulate interest but not so much to bore the reader.

Write small digestible pieces of information as then you stand a better chance of having your CV read.

Try to keep your CV to a maximum of three pages but two pages is best.

Keep it brief and ensure that the content is relevant to the job that you are applying for.

Remember that self-opinion is best avoided.

Aim to include factual information or objective evidence and remember to focus on the benefits of your achievements.

Always get someone else to check your spelling and grammar.

Avoid coloured paper or fancy fonts. If you plan to fax or email your CV, you’ll get a much better result with clean fonts and a simple layout.

Writing your cover letter
CV’s are seldom used alone. They should always be introduced by way of a covering letter or telephone call. We’ve put together some good tips when writing your covering letter.

Make sure you do some research on the company and the job you’re applying for before you start to write your cover letter.

The cover letter is where you can really let your personality come through. Remember recruitment consultants and employers read hundreds of CVs. An interesting introductory letter can really make your CV stand out.

It may sound obvious, but make sure you pay close attention to the reply instructions in the advertisement i.e. address the covering letter to the right person.

Your letter can be used to pick up points that you didn’t find space to in your CV. Highlight key strengths that are really relevant to the specific job for which you are applying.

Try to keep your cover letter to one side of A4.

Again, use a simple layout and easy-to-read fonts so your recruiter can scan your letter easily.

For more guidance on writing your CV or cover letter, get in touch with our friendly team by contacting your local branch.

How to prepare for your interview
It is extremely important to be as prepared as you can be for an interview, enabling you to make the best possible impression. You need to come across as being equipped and interested in the role and knowledgeable about the company, their values, culture and the people they employ.

Preparation for the interview
It is essential to research the organisation and find out what they do – what products and/or services that they offer.

Make sure you read up on their latest news including any awards, accolades or recent developments in the business

Research the companies history and find out when they were established and how they have grown.

If the company website isn’t very informative, take a direct approach and phone the company to ask if they can email or send you any company literature or answer any questions you have.

If they haven’t got a website, take a look at other online profiles they may have, such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+. LinkedIn company profiles can give some useful information about employees and what roles they do within the organisation.

It is advisable to prepare some questions to ask the interviewer, to show that you have thought about the company, position and the environment in which you will be working.

Attending the interview
Once you have done your research into the company and its culture, it is important that you make a good impression on arrival for your interview. You rarely get a second chance to make a first impression so it is vital that you get it right first time.

Make sure you have planned your journey in advance and know how long it will take you to get there.

Check if there is parking onsite or a security procedure to go through that is going to add extra time to your travel. It is a good idea to have the interviewer’s telephone number so you can notify them if you are delayed.

Make sure you are familiar with your own CV and ensure you can talk confidently about your skills, experience and achievements to date, particularly those which are relevant to the position you have applied for.

Ask your Recruitment Consultant what the client’s dress code is. For office based work, smart business attire is a must. Above all, ensure you are clean, tidy and not wearing too much perfume, aftershave or makeup. 

If you’d like to know more about preparing for an interview or if you’d like to ask one of our advisors for more advice, contact your local branch now.

What shall I ask at an interview?
Most recruiters will ask if you have any questions during or at the end of an interview and you should have these prepared. The aim is to ask a couple of good questions, which show you have been paying attention during your interview and also that you have given thought to researching the company and the specific job you are applying for. Just saying that you have no questions is a bad response and may be frustrating for the interviewer(s).

Here are some good examples of the questions you should ask:

What is the company culture like? This will give the interviewer a good opportunity to establish if you are a cultural fit for the company, but also help you decide if you want to work for them.

How are employees recognised for their achievements? This will help you be sure that your potential new employer recognises its employees and that the company values morale.

What will I most like about working for the company? This will provide insight into whether you’d be happy working with the company or with this individual. If their answer excites you, it can further reinforce your decision that it will be a good place for you to work. If not, the response may give you something to think about before deciding to invest in a future there.

What would be expected of me in the first month, two months or three months of employment if I were successfully appointed? This shows you are thinking ahead to what value you can add to the company and not just what the company can do for you.

Here are some examples questions you should avoid:

What is the salary and are there any benefits? This should only come into play once an offer has been made. This also applies to sick pay and holiday days, or how often reviews occur. It is best to avoid any question that sounds like you assume you already have the position, unless, of course, your interviewer brings up the subject first.

Questions that start with “Why…?” – these kinds of questions can sound confrontational and often put people on the defensive. A better way of asking, for example, “Why did the company lay off people last year?” would be “I read about the layoffs you had last year… What is your opinion on how the company is positioned for the future?”

Who are your competitors? Whilst it shows you are giving thought to the industry as a whole, it could reveal that you have not done enough research about the company prior to the interview.

Is there any flexibility in my working week? Even if it is clear that you are looking for a flexible working arrangement to accommodate a legitimate concern, it could be seen that you are insinuating that you are concerned about work-life balance and may indicate to the potential employer that you are more concerned about your needs and less concerned about the company’s.

What is your social networking policy? While social media is vital in today’s culture, some employers are still cautious about reports of misuse of the internet and social media by workers costing the economy billions of pounds every year. Questions about whether social networking usage is monitored may ring alarm bells that you might frequently visit sites during working hours and asking if profiles are monitored may give the impression you are have something to hide.

To learn about other questions to ask in an interview, speak to our specialist recruiters by contacting your local branch.

Will your potential employer look at your social media profiles?
It is becoming increasingly common for employers to actively research applicants online as part of their recruitment process. Studies have found that 88% of clients research online and an estimated 250,000+ HR professionals have discarded a job applicant because of online content they have found.

Used correctly, social media can be extremely effective for networking, however, information you post online can be viewed for a very long time. It’s vital to consider your online profile as much as you would your own CV.

Here are some top tips to building your online reputation:

Regularly Google yourself and search your name on to check what has been made public about you online.

When it comes to choosing your profile picture across all social media, make sure it is appropriate. Your picture does not have to be professional across all site but make sure it’s decent!

Make sure you understand each site’s privacy settings – these allow you to choose who sees what. You don’t want a prospective employer to know information about your social activities or your friends and family, so make sure your privacy settings are adequate.

Blogs and websites are a great way to become connected to influential people and communicate information on your successes and achievements. Research those which are relevant to your particular discipline and geographical area and use them to create a positive impression to your peers. Ensure that information or articles you contribute to are helpful, professional and insightful. Join LinkedIn and start building your online voice.

Be careful when posting statuses or Tweets. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t want a co-worker to overhear you say it then don’t post it on the web! A knee-jerk remark about a bad day in the office, the unreasonable actions of a boss or a difficult client may well come back to haunt you.

Be honest. Don’t fabricate or exaggerate job titles or length of service on your profile (or indeed on your CV) as you can easily get caught out by a quick search.

Remember that comments made on social sites will often include a time and date. If they are posted during your working hours this may not give the best impression.

Consider that it might not just be potential employers that are searching for you. It could also be potential clients and/or customers. So even if you are not looking for a new position, it’s worth reviewing your internet presence.

For more information about how to review your social media presence online, get in touch with our team.

How to make a difference in your new job
Your first months in a new job can be exciting, daunting but most of all crucial to making a good first impression and ensuring a smooth transition into your new company. You should aim to perform well and build good relationships with your colleagues and managers.

Whilst it is important to ensure that you are diligent about your own work, it is just as important to think about how you fit in with people and how quickly you grasp how things work. It may be unsettling if your new organisation has different approaches or methods to your old employer and things may be very different from what you expected, especially if you are moving from a large organisation to a small company or from public sector to private, for example. However, if you can understand what’s expected and how to get things done you will be more likely to establish yourself quickly and effectively.

During the first crucial day’s you should…

Learn by asking questions and observing how systems work

Review the company’s mission statement and corporate values and try to adopt some of these values in the way that you work

Explore more about the business, its products and/or services and who their competitors are

Understand the company’s hierarchy, how decisions are made and who makes them

Try to gain an understanding of how ideas, news and information is communicated and how problems are solved

If asked, tell your boss how you’re feeling about how you’re getting on. Talk to your Recruitment Consultant who may be able to help with any issues or concerns you are having.

Once you’ve settled in you should…

Try to establish the expectations that your manager has of you

Gain an understanding of how your role is perceived and how it can have an impact within the organisation

If the organisation does not set objectives or specific targets, set yourself a series of goals to work towards and discuss them with your manager if appropriate. This will help you to monitor your own progress.

Maximise any training opportunities that are presented to you as it can only be to your benefit.

If you’ve just started a new role and looking for some more support, our team can help. Get in touch with one of our recruitment specialists.

How to resign correctly and appropriately
Resigning from your job may seem an easy thing to do, but there are right and wrong ways. Get it wrong and it can lead to bad feelings between you and your employer, recriminations on both sides and often, a bad reference.

Firstly consider if you are sure you want to leave. Make a list of reasons why you should resign. Have you got as far as you can within your current firm? Would you leave if you were offered more money or a promotion?

If you decide to resign in person, work out what you are going to say and then stick to it. The boss will likely try and probe you for more information, including details you may not want to give. Unless your boss is expecting you to resign, your decision may come as a surprise.

Resigning in writing gives you more time to prepare what you want to say and gives you greater control of the message. Include the following information in a written letter of resignation:



The person it is addressed to

Notice of termination of employment and when this is effective from

An acknowledgement of the time you have spent with the company or the support you have received, if you feel it is appropriate

Your signature

If you are leaving in strained or bad circumstances, you should resist the temptation to bad mouth or let off steam. Telling your boss what you really thought of them or a co-worker will remain in your personnel file and may come back to haunt you.

If in doubt seek advice from your recruitment consultant.

Accepting or turning down your employers counter offer

More and more frequently, when employees resign, they provoke an attempt by their employer to buy them back through a promotion. How should you view a counter offer?

Faced with the possibility of losing an employee and the time, cost and trouble of recruiting a replacement, many companies may try to persuade a good employee to stay. They may offer incentives that include a promotion, additional benefits such as increased holiday, a change of reporting lines, working environment or working conditions, even a new job description. An employer might try any number of combinations but the reason they are doing it is to benefit them and not always you.

Indeed your first thought about a counter offer should be to view it negatively as if a company has been undervaluing you or under utilising you for a significant period of time. What kind of employer are they?

You should not forget that they know you are not committed to them long term and consequently will be unlikely to favour you over other internal candidates for promotion into key long-term roles. Counter offers are all about short-term problems. Furthermore, if you are known to have resigned and been brought back, this could encourage negative reactions from colleagues who are either resentful, or dismissive of your integrity. For these reasons, if a company could do something which would keep you, you should raise this with the appropriate people at the company before you start looking for another job, as using a job offer as a stick to get them to do something is likely to backfire.

Be wary of counter offers and never forget that you would not have resigned unless you had found another opportunity, which is both a good career move.

As a final word on counter offers, nearly 90% fail within 12 months. This is because although a company will often do anything possible to hang on to someone to avoid the hassle and cost involved with them leaving, or whilst they put in place contingency staffing plans, fundamentally nothing changes.

For more advice on what to do if your employer offers a counter proposal, get in touch with one of our team.

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